In times of climate change and related global challenges, forests are both under threat and considered important allies to mitigate climate change. Demand for our forests is accordingly high, so we ask ourselves: Could Integrative Forest Management – a management method that integrates several forest ecosystem services – serve as one of the solutions? And if yes – how can we make all stakeholders concerned with forests part of this solution? What role does effective communication play in this? With the webinar “Integrative Forest Management requires integrative solutions” on 4th July organized by the Integrate Network, and hosted by the current Integrate chair, Michel Leytem (Luxembourg), we aimed at a solution-oriented discussion on tested methods and best practice approaches for overcoming silos and integrating the wide range of interests in forest ecosystems. Our panelists were Dr. Susanne Winter (WWF), Teresa Baiges (Centre de la Propietat Forestal, Catalonia), Sabrina Dietz (FACE), and Giovanni Santopuoli (Unimol). The panel was moderated by Jakob Derks (WUR, Landmax).
When we are talking about Integrative Forest Management, or in short IFM, what do we actually mean by that? Well, for starters, the panelists agreed that IFM is not a strictly defined concept but rather a holistic approach to looking at forest management. It is a multifunctional way of forestry, where the provisioning of ecosystem services is integrated into forest management. A key element, however, is that this is always balanced with biodiversity conservation. How this balance works out, differs regionally, and that’s where IFM goes beyond forest management itself, it supports having an open dialogue with different stakeholders and interest groups, in order to meet regional demands and offer solutions to local conflicts of interest.
IFM is a way to tackle present challenges and offer future solutions
Forests are facing severe challenges, like the loss of biodiversity, climate change, and changing societal and economic expectations. In terms of where IFM currently stands, Susanne questioned that “how we now look at IFM is maybe an old-fashioned way, due to climate change, it should be obvious that forest ecosystems have to go first in our consideration. If the forest suffers, then timber use or other ecosystem services are only further possible in resilient forests.”
Teresa added that the resilience of the forest is getting increasingly challenged by disturbances like wildfires, and not only in the Mediterranean. Are fire prevention measures leading to a conflict with biodiversity conservation measures? If you ask Teresa, that’s not necessarily the case! “If we consider fire prevention measures, we are talking about civilian protection. At the same time, fire is a key element of the ecosystem, and so we want to preserve fire as well.” IFM cannot maximize everything everywhere, therefore management at the landscape level is crucial. There is a need to set priorities at the landscape level and stand level and come up with compromise solutions, to create a mosaic landscape where strategic places are prioritized for fire management and other areas are prioritized for forest conservation, which will lead towards a more resilient landscape. One of the promising strategies to build resilient forests is to use non-native species that are more likely to adapt to a changing climate. As a direct reaction to this, Susanne emphasized that balancing conservation is an important part of IFM, so we need to be cautious with, newly introduced non-native species because they can turn invasive over time, which would harm the resilience of the forest.
But even if you only would regenerate with a native set of species, your young trees still need to have guaranteed success in growing, right? This is what Sabrina brought to the discussion: A lot of forests struggle with browsing damage from deer, which hampers the success of a diverse mix of tree species. Both conservationists and hunters want more mixed stands that are resilient as well, she emphasized. Sabrina stressed that if the goal is to achieve a resilient forest, game management or hunting should always be supported by other protective silvicultural measures. According to her, “It is not hunting versus other measures; it is hunting complemented with other protective measures.”
Hunting plays both a social and economic role. Social acceptance is crucial for IFM, Jakob continued, “every solution we come up with is only effective when it is supported by populations that are involved somehow. Social outreach is an integrative part of IFM.”
Communication is a crucial part of social outreach, but the forest sector has not always been successful at it. Giovanni added that there is increased demand for better communication and guidance on what works best in a given context. According to him, the involvement of stakeholders in practical activities seems to be the best way, directly in the field, and in his opinion, marteloscopes support this way of communication. However, it is not always easy to get people into the field. What the forest sector seems to lack in engaging with stakeholders seems to be more successfully done by Environmental NGOs like WWF. Susanne emphasized that WWF’s communication has increasingly focused on social media. In addition, WWF’s communication tries to work fully scientific-based, and new scientific insights are included in their narratives as well. According to Susanne, one should not support simplistic solutions to complex problems. Ultimately, WWF wants to reach out to all of the stakeholders to foster a socioecological transformation.
Meeting goals and needs
Susanne emphasized the importance of EU policies and their influence on how we, directly and indirectly, manage our forests. Jakob added that some of them seem to offer perspectives for IFM as part of the solution but also create a challenge of balance. One example is that on the one hand, the EU Forest Strategy tries to stimulate the forest-related bioeconomy, but at the same time, the EU biodiversity strategy demands an increase in protected areas. Susanne made the point that if we want to implement the EU biodiversity strategy, we should stop opposing biodiversity protection and timber production but find a way to integrate both protected forests can act as a reference for forest management. On a global level, we should reduce our wood consumption and only have wood supply from sustainably managed sources. Although global efforts are crucial, policy also needs to come down to a local level, which is for instance important for hunting. As a response, Jakob is wondering if there is a need for more EU coordination, Sabrina stated that there is currently no real appetite for direct EU regulation in the hunting community. Following Sabrina, we should focus on a landscape level in terms of IFM and hunting. Here, local needs should be met, and targets of deer management should be set at a local scale with those stakeholders who are involved or should get involved. In order to implement larger strategies, local support is needed. Since a lot of forests in Europe are privately owned, and by a lot, I mean about 60% of the total forested area is privately owned. As mentioned by Jakob, these local owners need to be mobilized to reach global goals. But what tools are needed for that? Teresa pointed out that planning at the landscape level is important if we know which areas will benefit the best from the mobilization of forest owners. Here, local forest associations and technical organizations can support and bridge the gap between societal demands and what the forest owner can offer. The panelists agreed that having trained people is crucial, and a new generation of trained forest technicians can bring new views.
Giovanni added a positive view by indicating that “the new school of students is very enthusiastic about forests. Learning how to monitor and assess forests is a step in the process of providing solutions. Even young children are very eager to learn when they are actually in the forest.” This way, forests should serve as outdoor classrooms, for instance by using the marteloscopes as a tool to learn about the different aspects of the forest. They first learn about the different aspects, whereafter they dive into the forest, by collecting and viewing data they get in touch with different aspects and indicators by hand. This way, the forests can offer a place for exchanging ideas and discussing indicators.
Wrapping up and take home message
But can the different types of exchanges discussed in the webinar really help stakeholders with different points of view to find common ground? Well, as Jakob said, in the end, IFM can provide solutions, to better balance interests, but we need to continue talking to each other and discuss ideas. A series of exchanges could strengthen the dialog on the local level, to build a shared vision with different interest groups that can contribute to a larger common goal. Which then can lead to steps to create a better world. In other words, as Susanne stated: “For every hour we discuss here, we should have another hour in the forest, we look way too often at a screen, and understandings and learnings are way different when you are standing in between the trees.”